A radical revision for Montgomery's Elrich

By Steve Hendrix
Tuesday, October 12, 2010

There's no doubting Marc Elrich's counterculture cred. He was 12 when he went to his first peace rally in 1961. A few years later, when he got to the University of Maryland, he promptly helped take over the philosophy building.

He's been arrested at an anti-apartheid protest. He's run a natural food co-op. He pushed Takoma Park to declare itself a nuclear-free zone and served 10 terms on that activist enclave's City Council.

So when Elrich unexpectedly won a seat on the Montgomery County Council four years ago, he was widely seen as a tie-dyed-in-the-wool liberal warrior, the anti-business darling of the county's most radical corner.

So how come they suddenly love him in Poolesville?

Running for reelection in last month's Democratic primary, Elrich won not just in urbanized downcounty neighborhoods but in more rural areas as well. He proved the top vote-getter in a field of nine, winning in every district in the county.

And he was endorsed not only by the Sierra Club and the AFL-CIO but also by the Realtors association and the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce.

"He's come a long way, baby," said Stephen Elmendorf, a real estate lawyer who represents developers in the county. "When he was first elected, I think there was shock in the business community, and fear. But a lot of that has dissipated. . . .

"I think he's trying to find solutions."

Even in a restive political year (council member Duchy Trachtenberg lost her seat when she failed to finish in the top four in the at-large race), Elrich is considered a shoo-in to win in November in heavily Democratic Montgomery. It's a pleasant shift for someone who ran four losing races for the council before finally bagging a seat in 2006.

"It feels good," Elrich said one recent morning over an Egg Beaters omelet at Mark's Kitchen in downtown Takoma Park, a few blocks from where he's lived for 30 years. At 60, he's short-haired, stocky and tie-free. He looks more like the elementary school teacher he was for 17 years than either a hippie radical or a professional politician.

Elrich has watched the evaporation of his radical rep with amused pleasure. Over and over, he's heard a version of the same reaction from upcounty neighborhood leaders, home builders and even anti-immigrant activists: You're a lot more normal than I expected.

"I was never the caricature that people thought I was," Elrich said. Not that he wouldn't love to push more liberal causes (rent control is high on his list), but he knows most of them are non-starters. "My progressive principles are deep, but I didn't run five times just to come here and lose a bunch of 8-1 votes. I really want to make a difference."

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